Xinjiang internment camps: Sister of Uighur rights advocate Rebiya Kadeer dies after release from detention

WION Web Team
Xinjiang, ChinaUpdated: May 13, 2021, 08:16 AM IST

File photo Photograph:(Reuters)

Story highlights

Arzugul's relationship with Rebiya had been cut off since mid-2014, but in late 2017 she received information that her sister had died in a camp, reported Radio Free Asia (RFA).

Arzugul Kadeer, the younger sister of veteran Uyghur rights advocate Rebiya Kadeer, is confirmed to have died one week after her release from a Chinese internment camp.

Rebiya Kadeer is a longtime advocate of greater autonomy for China’s Uighur Muslims, she was nominated for the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize.

Arzugul's relationship with Rebiya had been cut off since mid-2014, but in late 2017 she received information that her sister had died in a camp, reported Radio Free Asia (RFA).

Gravitas: Is forced Uighur labour making your favourite Apple products?

Speaking out recently on how Chinese authorities have targeted her relatives due to her advocacy efforts abroad, Rebiya said that they forced her granddaughter Aydidar Kahar and her younger brother Mamatjan Kadeer to speak onscreen at a press conference in March, claiming that all members of the family are "free" and living "happily".

Rebiya was a prominent businesswoman in the Xinjiang region, who was released from a Chinese prison in March 2005 on medical parole after being jailed for six years for sending politically sensitive newspaper clippings abroad and went into exile in the US. She has served 11 years as leader of the exiled World Uyghur Congress (WUC) and heads the International Uyghur Human Rights and Democracy Foundation. 

A total of 38 of the Uyghur rights advocate`s family members have been in some form of detention in the region. She also noted that she and Arzugul had continued speaking on the phone through 2014 despite threats from the police, according to RFA. A source told RFA that Arzugul was first detained for a month by police after deadly unrest in Xinjiang`s capital Urumqi in 2009 and for a second time in 2014 when China cracked down on the Uyghur society in the name of preventing 'religious extremism'.

According to the source, Arzugul was detained for a third and final time in 2017 at the age of 69. The source said that she was unable to withstand the interrogations and torture she received while in detention and that her health rapidly declined, resulting in her loss of physical strength and inability to move.

Arzugul was later taken to the neighbourhood committee of Saqsaq in a state of poor health, after which she was taken to a hospital, where she passed away. A police officer in Kuchar city also confirmed that Arzugul died in hospital three or four years ago. 

Meanwhile, Abdurashid Niyaz, an independent researcher in Turkey, told RFA that cracking down on dissidents and their family members is "a particularly cruel and inhumane act".

"Although it is very clear that these detained and surveilled prisoners have absolutely no relationship to the political activities their relatives are engaged in, the Chinese communists are adopting and using such cruel methods in an attempt to preserve their rule and to achieve stability, even if for just a period... But humanity will not forgive this, and cannot accept it, because punishing people`s relatives is a method that is contradictory to human nature," he said. 

Since 2017, the Chinese government has detained more than one million Uyghurs, ethnic Kazakhs, Hui, and members of other Muslim groups, as well as some Christians, in specially built internment camps or converted detention facilities in Xinjiang under the national counterterrorism law and the regional counter-extremism policy noted the US International Religious Freedom report for 2020. 

Authorities subjected individuals to forced disappearance, political indoctrination, torture, physical and psychological abuse, including forced sterilization and sexual abuse, forced labour, and prolonged detention without trial because of their religion and ethnicity, according to the US report. 

Meanwhile, the whereabouts of hundreds of prominent Uyghur intellectuals, religious scholars, cultural figures, doctors, journalists, artists, academics, and other professionals, in addition to many other citizens who were arrested or detained, remained unknown, while reports of individuals dying as a result of injuries sustained during interrogations, medical neglect and torture came to the fore.

(With inputs from agencies)